Surprise. Surprise.

Week 7
I may never discover what Salted Watermelon tastes like.

As I soak in this glorious Rest Day (that still includes a recovery spin, Yoga, and MTP), I have time to reflect on the past couple of days.

On Monday, I rode "Who Dares."

Now, whenever I see an "FTP" focused workout, I tend to relax.
Why? because I find it relatively easy to settle into a rhythm and push on. No workout is going to have me sitting at FTP for an extended period (shut up FF), and a session that's an hour-long, well, can't be that punishing with FTP focus, right?

"Who Dares" is basically 3x 9.5minute sets of:
Sprint > subFTP > Sprint > Grind > Surge >Sprint > Rest
The idea is to teach your body to be more efficient at recovery under pressure and clear away metabolites faster.
The sprints flood the body with metabolites (lactic acid and its buddies). The following sub-FTP efforts force the body to clear them out while still pushing hard. The change in cadence (low cadence grind and high cadence surge) adds more difficulty hence better adaptation.

So while its certainly tolerable and not hugely tricky, the biggest problem I had with this workout is the one after it.

On Tuesday, I had ISLTA* scheduled.
("It Seemed Like Thin Air" is the mashup of "It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time", and "Thin Air". Dessert is served as a 40-minute climb + mountain finish)

I've found this 2.5-hour punishment so demanding that I'm getting worked up about it days in advance.
So riding "Who Dares" a day before had me worried about my form for ISLTA the next day. I'm still carrying over the fatigue from Sunday's Strength sessions for goodness sakes.

As I woke up on Tuesday, running through a quick body-scan, I could feel my heavy, tired legs straight away.
"Oh, dear," I thought. "This one's gonna hurt."

ISLTA... first time I rode it a day after The Shovel, before starting The Sufferfest structured plan. I agonized at the end, struggling to finish, but did.
The second time I fought cramps, mind fog, and had an overall traumatic experience.
Here, click and rejoice in my agony.

Isn't this supposed to be a Tempo ride?!

Well, surprise surprise.
This time, it was.

In fact, I clearly recall telling myself, "I can do this all day!" when sitting/standing on the tempo/FTP surges well into the second half of the ride.
I felt good. I felt strong. I had more to give at the end.

Let's theorize then.
What made this previously horrific training session so (relatively) easy this time?

The evening before, I had some extra carbs in the form of a generous handful of pasta.
Two hours prior, I had a banana-milk smoothie with a spoonful of honey.
As I was getting ready with my kit and drinks and all, I felt a bit hungry, so I had a "nature valley" crunchy granola bar.
While I generally prefer riding on an empty stomach, embarking on ISLTA hungry seemed like a terrible idea. Remember, at this stage, I'm apprehensive about the state I'll be just 3 hours from now.
I set aside another bar that I ate in bits during the rests between climbs.
I had a couple of gels nearby as well, determined to finally taste that Salted Watermelon.
These remained sealed.

Bottle #1: Beetroot juice + Beta-alanine
Bottle #2+4+6: Water
Bottles #3+5: GU Drink Mix
(This is the order of consumption, with my ROT of one bottle for every 30 minutes, plus one.)

I completed the Core session on the Halo Neuroscience headset. I do this before nearly every session. This presumably assists with the faster neuromuscular adaptation. As a felt result of these sessions, however, I experience less RPE. I mentioned this before. In simple terms, it makes things more "tolerable."
On the other hand, I do it before nearly every session, so hard is hard even with neuro-priming.
Mind you, my efficiency is pretty good, to begin with, but if it helps, then why not?

A significant part of The Sufferfest training program involves focusing on proper form and drilling it regularly (Elements of Style, Cadence Build/Drills/etc.).
As an experienced cyclist, I recall many of these sessions in the past as a noob (single-leg climbs, etc.) but have neglected them over the years, thinking that I may not need them as much now.
That's very likely to be wrong.
The reason is that the real training is primarily neuromuscular, and keeping the neural pathways firing consistently and efficiently means that we can assemble and activate our muscle fibers better. This translates to becoming stronger and faster while maintaining great form on the bike. (See above!)

Training Load:
Not going to go into too much detail, but this graph reflects the recovery and gradual buildup from The Shovel on Oct 25 to ISLTA on Oct 29. We can see the Training load rising then slightly curling back before ISLTA, while Form rises to the occasion.

Similarly to Form, consistent work goes into Strength training. I consider Yoga too, as it overlaps both on the core elements as well as the myofascial support.
So yeah, presumably getting stronger :)

Additional thoughts:
I'm curious to see what experiences will follow as I repeat some of the more horrific sessions over the next few weeks. Will they also feel easier? I speculate that, yes, they will.
Part of this consideration relates to the fact that the 4DP Profile doesn't change.
(As a side note, The Sufferfest offers a guide for actions when a session feels too hard or easy - to prevent overtraining or stagnation.)

The power targets dictated by the 4DP test remain throughout the training program until you retake the test. So (far), I haven't encountered workouts that set new records for any of the 4DP dimensions.
My "best" remains those results from the Full Frontal Test back on Sept 5.
What I think it means is that I've been training based on this profile for the past 6-7 weeks - so plainly getting better as the targets stay the same while I work my butt off and improve.

This point is interesting to compare with Xert.
Xert will calculate your targeted power range (MAP, or 5-minute power) and keep the power targets on workout relative to what is currently is, not what it was some weeks ago. Theoretically, this should result in more progress for the targeted power dimension.

However, I've still some weeks to go and have many more workouts to do. I don't know if any of them have 5-minute intervals higher than my measured MAP (or another dimension) to set a new "best".
Also, I'm pretty sure that setting a new "best" will not change the 4DP profile as the Full Frontal test is accurate when taken in its entirety.

It would seem that the SUF plans draw a line in the sand in the form of the 4DP Full Frontal Test, then work for ~12 weeks and test again. Rinse repeat.
I'm very curious to see the changes in the next test and also speculate that with time, the "rider type" will also change as weaknesses diminish and strengths fortify.
I expect that consequent plans will vary in their focus, yet become increasingly marginal in their overall benefit.
We shall see.

Meanwhile, I'm keeping that Salted Watermelon gel nearby, waiting for the workout that will have me reaching for it like a Choulandrian for a donut.

(I've got 14 Vise Grips tomorrow, so who knows?)